Top General: Army Near Breaking Point

US soldiers from Easy company 2/7 infantries division take position during a foot patrol in the city of Tikrit, the place birth of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, 19 October 2005. Getty Images/Tauseef Mustafa

As President Bush weighed new strategies for Iraq, the Army's top general warned Thursday that his force "will break" without thousands more active duty troops and greater use of the reserves.

Noting the strain put on the force by operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said he wants to grow his half-million-member Army beyond the 30,000 troops already added in recent years.

Though he didn't give an exact number, he said it would take significant time and commitment by the nation, noting some 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be added per year.

But as CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports, increasing the size of the Army might not help any time soon. It would take a full year to recruit and train 6,000 new troops.

Officials also need greater authority to tap into the National Guard and Reserve, a force once set up as a strategic reserve but now needed as an integral part of the nation's deployed forces, Schoomaker told a commission studying possible changes in those two forces.

"Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand ... is placing a strain on the Army's all-volunteer force," Schoomaker told the commission in a Capitol Hill hearing.

"At his pace ... we will break the active component" unless reserves can be called up more to help, Schoomaker said.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Schoomaker said Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, is looking at several options in Iraq, including shifting many troops from combat to training Iraqi units. Schoomaker said that while ground commanders assess their options, the military is more interested in getting the Iraqi security forces up to speed than sending more U.S. troops.

"Focus less on trainers," he said, and more on "how we generate Iraqi output."

The Army in recent days has been looking at how many additional troops could be sent to Iraq, if the president decides a surge in forces would be helpful. But, officials say, only about 10,000 to 15,000 troops could be sent and an end to the war would have to be in sight because it would drain the pool of available soldiers for combat.

"We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker told reporters. "And that purpose should be measurable."

Schoomaker's comments come as Mr. Bush reviews options for the foundering Iraq war, including suggestions he send more U.S. troops to the increasingly violent country and accelerate the training of Iraq's own security forces.

A senior military officer directly involved in the deliberations over the new strategy told Martin there "probably" will be a surge of U.S. troops into Iraq in an attempt to keep the lid on violence in Baghdad.

But he ruled out a massive buildup of combat forces, adding, "The Iraqis would never stand for that."

On Wednesday, Mr. Bush said he's "not going to be rushed" into a decision on a strategy change for Iraq.

Mr. Bush made it clear he will not map out a new war strategy until his new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, has taken over and offered his counsel. And that new plan, he said, will not include giving up.

"The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists who want to do the American people and the Iraqi people harm," Mr. Bush said after a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gates.

  • Joel Roberts

Comments